Making Visual Studio Accessible

Visual Studio Blog

Microsoft as a whole is committed to making our technology accessible to everyone (see our Accessibility Mission Statement). This is true for us here in Visual Studio as well, and we work continuously to improve the accessibility of each product we release. The recently released Visual Studio 2013 is our most accessible version yet.

In all versions of Visual Studio, our designers routinely consider a number of areas related to accessibility when designing a new UI. Some such areas are:

  • Mnemonics are included on all controls within dialogs and the tab order for controls is set in a logical sequence.
  • Foreground/background contrast ratios meet accessibility goals.
  • Charts and various reporting graphics are viewed in grayscale and various color blindness variants to ensure that there is enough difference between the color saturation/hues so that they can be distinguished from each other regardless of vision limitations.
  • Default keyboard binding are set for most features and users can customize keyboard shortcuts through the Tools/Options dialog.

In alignment with our goal to make each release of Visual Studio perceptively better than the previous versions, we have been collecting feedback from our customers through Microsoft Connect, Customer Support Services and internal feedback systems. From these sources, three primary themes emerged related to our accessibility: screen reader compatibility, contrast ratios, and keyboard shortcut documentation. In this post, I’d like to share some updates in each of these three areas.

Screen reader compatibility

According to the most recent WebAIM Screen Reader User Survey, Freedom Scientific’s JAWS is the primary screen reader in use around the world. With this in mind, as well as to maintain compatibility with Microsoft’s screen reader Windows Narrator, our development teams made an extensive investment to ensure that Visual Studio 2013 is compatible with Windows Narrator and JAWS.

Contrast ratios

Feedback also indicated there wasn’t enough differentiation between the colors we chose in the new Visual Studio color themes. In Visual Studio 2013, we increased the contrast ratio in our primary code editor in the blue, dark, and light themes as well as in the High Contrast modes. Fonts and colors are still fully customizable via the Tools/Options dialog, and can be further customized by using the recently released Color Theme Editor for Visual Studio 2013 which is an extension allowing maximum control over colors.

Keyboard shortcut documentation

The Visual Studio documentation has been updated to include keyboard shortcuts for core Visual Studio 2013 features. Here are links to these documents:

Next Steps

We are already planning work on the next version of Visual Studio and are interested in hearing about the issues that impact developers the most. Please share your thoughts on our product’s accessibility as comments below, via the Send-a-Smile feature from within the Visual Studio 2013 IDE, or via User Voice. If you have come across a bug, you can log it through the Visual Studio Connect forum.

Thank you for helping us make Visual Studio more accessible!

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Elisabeth Blees: Program Manager

Elisabeth is a Program Manager on the Visual Studio Platform Tools team. Prior to becoming a Program Manager in early 2013, she worked as a Build Facilitator Developer for Visual Studio’s central engineering group. She loves to spend her time at Microsoft working to improve processes and communication to help drive every iteration of Visual Studio to be better than the one before.


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